In Fear Of No Fear: A Pop Cultural Critical Mass
When I was younger, lots of things terrified me. Not all of those things were intended to be scary, either. It's one of those burdens that some kids are just forced to bear.
One of my earliest fears was of vampires, inspired by a BBC TV production of Bram Stoker's Dracula starring Louis Jourdan. That two-part miniseries forced me to sleep with a crucifix, a rosary, AND a Bible for at least two nights. A few years later, the trailer for Halloween III terrified me to the point that I had to change the channel when it came on. Horror movies haunted me for years and were responsible for many sleepless nights and panic attacks.
At one point, it was the clown puppet in Poltergeist, then Pazuzu in The Exorcist. An unexpected screening of The Gates Of Hell at a friend's house when I was 15 was particularly scarring. When I was in my twenties, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was so terrifying that I couldn't get through it the first time around and had to wait a couple of decades to work up the courage again. 28 Days Later, Signs, Jeepers Creepers, The Descent, À l'intérieur, Insidious... all of these thrust me into varying levels of fright, from heart palpitations to openly weeping from fear.
Most recently, it was the movie February that got under my skin. Even though I saw it during TIFF in the daytime, it stayed with me in the way that all effective horror films do: you think of them in the middle of the night when you wake up to get a drink of water and get the actual creeps.
Being completely and thoroughly scared throughout an entire movie is rare. This isn't just an empirical perspective; good horror filmmakers know how to layer jump scares, creeping dread, and/or gut-churning gore in ways that are calculated to shock the senses at key points. Yet, as every hardcore horror film fan will admit, it becomes harder and harder to find movies that will completely scare the hell out of you. Part of this is due to becoming older and wiser; part of it is due to desensitization.
For many, the pop cultural glut of zombies has rendered them not only not scary, but annoying. In the last decade alone, we've seen countless movies and at least five different TV series about zombies, one of which is Fear The Walking Dead, a spin-off of The Walking Dead, a show whose ratings have increased every year since 2010. Zombies, it would seem, are everywhere. So are they still scary?
One of the most frequent complaints about The Walking Dead (besides people hating on poor Carl Grimes) is that there aren't ENOUGH of the titular characters on the show. Season Two was derided as "The Talking Dead" and when compared to the more recent seasons of the show, it feels admittedly underwhelming. At this point, people seem to love zombies, but it's hard to tell if they're actually scared of them.
So what do people want now? Do they want to be scared, or do they just want to revel in the gore and blood? At what point does fear transition into the vicarious thrill of rooting for the good guys? The pendulum will always swing into the other direction and despite the overwhelming amount of zombie pop culture interpretations available, there are some who are taking it into different and interesting directions, as shown by the TV show iZombie or the recent comedy Life After Beth.
And there are always new versions of old ideas. For example, there seems to be a renewed interest in Satanic or occult-themed movies and TV shows, like February, for example, which is far more disturbing than any of the recent found footage possession films I've seen.
Since this new iteration of horror - the lurking danger of demons - hasn't yet been done to death, there are still plenty of opportunities for the discerning horror fan to seek out different ways to get scared. At least until the next trend comes along.